Motivated by the 9/11 attacks, Richard Dean joined the Army on September 12, 2001, from his home state of Indiana. After serving for 12 years with the 82nd Airborne Division based at Fort Bragg – deploying twice to Iraq and twice to Afghanistan – Dean wanted to stay in for 20 and earn a full pension. But the Army and fate had other ideas.

Because of injuries he sustained, Dean was medically retired in April 2012. And following some extensive back and forth with the Veterans Administration (VA), he now receives 100 percent disability. Not that he’s 100 percent disabled, but the extent of his service-related injuries qualifies him for this ongoing payment.

Despite having a loving family, his wife Holly, 31, and daughter Sara, 9 – and living in the peaceful town of Erwin, N.C. – life after the army was difficult for Dean, 39.

[Image: This sign greets visitors to Heritage Hemp Farms in Dunn, N.C. Photo by Gary Band.]

On medications for pain, post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression and sleeplessness – to name just a few of the issues he’s dealt with – Dean developed a tolerance to some of his medications and they appeared to stop working. After a while, the VA was able to prescribe the correct types and dosages but they weren’t 100 percent effective, insurance wouldn’t pay for certain ones and some of the symptoms persisted.

In 2016, just in time to save his life, it would be cannabis not chemicals, a farm not pharmaceuticals, which would provide the cure for Dean’s most serious conditions. The healing power of cannabidiol (CBD) oil would treat his symptoms, allow him to continue working on a farm and later take an active volunteer role in Heritage Hemp Farms, a company started and owned by his wife Holly, along with partners Joe and Yvonne Johnson, in November 2017.

“I shouldn’t be doing all this,” Dean said from his home in Dunn in November, referring to the extensive work he does every day. But because of products made with high-quality CBD oil he can. “I’ve been able to reduce or eliminate all the medications I’d been taking,” he said.

If all goes as planned, the small business his wife and her partners started just one year ago – a business that helped Dean and his family, his friends and neighbors in important ways – could expand considerably to make a positive impact on many more people in Harnett County and beyond.

“Hemp is probably going to be one of the biggest and best agricultural crops this country has ever seen,” Dean says. “Done right, it can save the family farm.”

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Good farmers make good neighbors

In 2012, while living in Erwin, N.C., Rich and Holly Dean made friends with Joe and Yvonne Johnson and their son Paul, third and fourth generation North Carolina farmers, respectively, and owners of Heritage Farms. Spread out over 3,000 acres in Harnett County, the Johnsons grow soybeans, corn, cotton, tobacco, sweet potatoes, rye, oats and coastal Bermuda hay. They also raise around 90,000 chickens, 200 head of cattle and own a few rental properties.

Soon after they met six years ago, Rich started helping out on the farm and with the rental properties. The farm had been doing well for a long time. But according to Joe, because of bad weather over the last two years along with a few other factors, they’ve been struggling of late.

In 2013, the Deans moved into a house owned by the Johnsons on 10 acres in Dunn, soon named Double D Farm. In addition to chickens and goats, it’s also a sanctuary for horses, now numbering four, some 13 rescue dogs, along with a few cats as well.

Then one fine day in 2017, Joe Johnson, 59, called Rich to say there was a seminar on hemp being offered at nearby Campbell University. Joe was interested but too busy to attend, and asked Rich if he wanted to go in his place. He did. Then he went to a couple more. And the rest is history.

[Image: Richard Dean looks for the right tool with Joe Johnson beside one of Johnson’s soybean fields in Dunn, N.C. Photo by Gary Band.]

Starting small

Like the one seed or clone necessary to start a grow operation, this seminar was the genesis for what became Heritage Hemp Farms. From conversations and running the numbers, applying for the license and creating the company in November 2017 – to growing the first batch of clones in just 60 square feet of indoor space on the Dean’s acreage starting in January 2018 – much has happened over the last 14 months.

Since then, operating under Heritage Farms LLC, license #205, and doing business as Heritage Hemp Farms, the initial investment has been paid back and sales goals and income projections for the year have been met. The partners reinvested their earnings back into the company to create more growing space indoors and out, more lighting, more equipment, more soil, and more nutrients that make up Holly’s magic mix to keep this sustainable regeneration of high-quality hemp plants going and going.

Just one year after starting to grow clones in that small area, HHF now has 2,300 square feet of growing space in seven greenhouses and more space in hoop houses. There’s also a plan to grow 10 acres of plants somewhere on the Johnson’s land at the start of the next outdoor growing season this coming May.

[Image: Some of Holly Dean’s clones at Heritage Hemp Farms. Photo by Gary Band.]

Art of the heal

Holly runs the day-to-day operations of HHF. Through reading, practice, experimentation, trial and error she has quickly become an expert in cloning, flowering plants, growing and taking clippings from the mother plants that keeps the circular process running smoothly week after week.

She talks with passion and purpose about the business and the benefits derived from this ancient plant. With her knowledge and ability to articulate it in a clear, convincing way, Holly is helping educate people who are either unaware of or doubt the effectiveness of CBD while growing her company at a rapid rate.

[Image: Holly Dean in the mother room at Heritage Hemp Farms. Photo by Gary Band.]

For those who doubt that CBD works, Holly points to how a full-spectrum high-quality cream helped her recover near full range of motion in her neck following brain surgery without taking any other medications; how it helped her mother with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and macular degeneration; and, how it helped her husband with his back pain and other issues.

[Read: What are cannabinoid receptors?]

Although not a partner in the company, Rich is a big part of the energy, passion and expertise behind it as well. Whether modifying or setting up new grow houses, installing lighting or water filtration systems, fixing the tractor or plowing new areas for planting, he is always on the move.

When he’s not working on the grow operation or on the farm, where he’s most recently been repairing the chicken houses damaged during Hurricane Florence, Rich is constantly thinking of ways to help grow the business and making new connections. He is at his best while expounding on the art and science, the math and machinations involved in the growing of hemp and the business of selling it.

Rich is also adept at advocating for the benefits of CBD-infused products, along with the many uses for hemp: from clothes and hempcrete to lumber and biofuels, insulation for car doors and replacing certain pharmaceuticals. Some of his most passionate prose defies quotation, but here’s a bit of what he has to say on these subjects.

“The pharmaceutical industry is corrupt and crooked as hell,” he says. “Opioids are hindering society and killing families. We can end the opioid epidemic with a natural, organic, non-addictive product. CBD is also known to kill cancer cells. Hemp can be made into biofuel. Hemp plants can regenerate every four months. Show me a fossil fuel that can do that. It’s eight times more lucrative to grow hemp than tobacco or other conventional crops. This industry is getting ready to explode. And it can sustain itself. The number of products that can be made from one kind of plant is amazing.”

Rich can hardly keep track of all the people he knows, talks to and works with. Calls to buy Holly’s clones keep coming in every day, along with inquiries from people wanting to get into the business and asking the Deans for help.

“We’ll help anyone set up any kind of grow they want,” Rich says. He and Holly are especially willing to help veterans.

“This industry is getting ready to explode. And it can sustain itself. The number of products that can be made from one kind of plant is amazing.

The Carolina Green Rush

For its part – as one of around 15 others in the Dunn region with grow operations of their own – including Broadway Hemp Company and Down South Hemp – Heritage Hemp Farms has now sold thousands of clones to other farmers throughout the area and hundreds of pounds of high-quality flowers and biomass to a processor in Mooresville, N.C. named Dave Helms, owner of MVP Enterprises. Rich is reportedly responsible for between 500,000 and 1,000,000 pounds of referrals for Helms, sending more and more growers to MVP all the time.

This relationship paved the way for the largest expansion yet to come for Heritage Hemp Farms, a partnership with Helms to bring a new processor to Harnett County.

“If all of our ducks stay in a row, we should have a processor here by June,” Holly said a week before Christmas.

This vertically integrated venture, Independence Day Processors, will buy and process plants grown by HHF and other area farmers as well as create products from oils and extracts, all under one roof. Many more steps and much more work remains to get everything in place, including finding a site to house the seven-figure processor. But plans are in motion and the partners are optimistic.

Of the 400 grower licenses issued by the state so far, estimates suggest that only around 200 license holders are actually growing.

[Image: Richard Dean plows new land for hemp plants in a hoop house at Heritage Hemp Farms. Photo by Gary Band.]

Holly and all involved are happy with the growth of the company so far. “It’s awesome,” she said. Holly says it’s all been word of mouth that accounts for HHF’s sales and success to date. As for what Independence Day Processors might do for the area, she thinks it will bring a bunch of new business for farmers and others.

Of the 400 grower licenses issued by the state so far, estimates suggest that only around 200 license holders are actually growing. But the green rush is most definitely on statewide, especially in and around Dunn. And having a processor in the area instead of two-and-a-half hours away in Mooresville will reduce travel costs for MVP and local farmers, and create cottage industries throughout the county.

As Holly says, “Hempin’ is hard.” But in just 12 months, that hard work, what started with a single clone from a single seed, has grown into thousands of plants totaling thousands of dollars for just one company.

“For us it’s been all about people helping each other drive forward and succeed in this life,” Rich says.

[Read: Hurricane Florence destroyed Brad Adams’ hemp farm — find out how you can help!]

The passage of the 2018 farm bill, which most importantly removes hemp from the list of Schedule 1 narcotics, and allows hemp farmers to purchase crop insurance, is a big boon to the industry. It creates more opportunities for farmers to grow greater yields and sell to both local processors and larger corporations getting in the game; and, of course reduces the risk of losing money if crops are lost to natural disasters. For context, some farmers lost upwards of 100K in Hurricane Florence.

“The possibilities for hemp are endless,” Rich says. “It has the potential to touch and be part of every major industry. In the next five years there won’t be enough quality supply to meet the demand. If you’re not already on the train get on now.”

As Holly says, “Hempin’ is hard.”

Gary Band

Gary Band

Reporter

Gary Band has worked as a reporter and editor since 1999 at weekly and daily newspapers in Massachusetts, Vermont, northern New Jersey and western New York. He lives with his wife in Cary, N.C.